Brown County Sheriff Vance Hill believes a bill recently signed by Gov. Greg Abbot last July has the potential to bankrupt the sheriff’s department.
Hill said the recently passed Sandra Bland Act offers every inmate access to telephone communication with a mental health specialist, but those calls will become quite costly should every inmate take advantage of the program.
“The Texas legislature got involved with this particular case and it’s know as the Sandra Bland act. They passed it at the last legislative meeting,” Hill said. “What they’ve done is put a bunch of additional requirements for county jails across the state of Texas. It has not cost the county anything at this point, but it’s going to end up costing the state of Texas millions of dollars if they current legislature does not address the issues as it’s written.”
Hill said the act requires Texas jails to have medical professionals at the jail at all times. It also requires Texas jails provide access to mental health professionals, which he said could potentially bankrupt sheriff’s department.
“The way the legislation is written, it’s going to take a psychologist or psychiatrist to be available to these inmates 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Hill said. “They developed a tele-med and a tele-sign, where we can put telephone systems in the county jail, where they can immediately contact with psychiatrists, psychologists a medical doctor, whatever their needs are, but that is going to cost us about $300 per telephone call. Don’t think when word gets out that the 195 inmates I have in my jail are going to be lined up in a constant circle using the telephone to break Brown County and the rest of the state of Texas. This is something our legislators absolutely have to re-write.”
Another point of contention for Hill, and specifically the Texas Sheriff’s Association of which he belongs, are legislative efforts to decriminalize marijuana and expand medical marijuana coverage in Texas. Although commonly used to treat pain, relieve nausea for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and a variety of other medical issues, Hill said medical marijuana legislation has a seedy underbelly most legislators are unaware.
“There are bills to allow the growing of marijuana, decriminalizing possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia and also bills to decrease the current penalties the state has for people in possession of methamphetamine, cocaine and things listed in penalty group one, which are serious drugs. The sheriff’s association is working desperately against those particular bills,” Hill said.
Hill said his department works closely with the Brownwood Police Department as well as other law enforcement agencies to prevent the spread of drug addiction in Brown County.
“When you look at states like Colorado, Oregon and California their DWI’s, fatality accidents and suicides have all dramatically increased thanks to legalized marijuana,” Hill said. “I think if we ever get it in the door for municipal purposes – and it’s just a matter of a couple of legislative session – before we’re growing and selling it.”